Embracing ‘Near Beer’ as a Healthier, Hangover-less Alternative

During Prohibition, many breweries survived by offering “near beer,” or rather malt beverages that contain little to no alcohol (less than 0.5 percent ABV). A century later, this loophole for desperate Americans with little access to speakeasies is experiencing a new boom.

It seems when libations become so plentiful, many non-drinkers and other customers desire a hangover-less option. After all, a long craft beer list usually means higher ABVs; I know my first IPA can make me a little woozy. We talk a lot about adding trending or innovative items to add to your draft list — what about something that has no alcohol at all?

Maanvi Singh describes in NPR how non-alcoholic beverages are emerging in even the most wet places: English pubs. She describes these near beers as “suspiciously good,” including a Scottish varietal called Nanny State, which a friend enjoyed without even knowing it was alcohol-free. 

Rob Fink, a brewer out of Berkshire, England, says “there’s no real reason you can’t make great quality non-alcoholic beer.” While a buzz is the natural result of traditional brewing processes, “arrested fermentation” stops the yeast before it turns the sugar in alcohol; other adjustments, like amount of grain and slower yeasts, can also be used to create yummy near beer. 

Smaller operations across the pond are not the only ones getting in on the alcohol-free brand; last year Budweiser released a non-alcoholic beer in limited markets called — what else — Prohibition Brew. This move coincides with Anheuser-Busch’s interesting prediction that low to non-alcoholic beer will make up 20 percent of their sales by 2025.

As for adding these non-alcoholic brews to your menu, you may want to look to its unexpected hotbed: Germany. Mintel (a market research company) revealed this year that one quarter of Germans think non-alcoholic beer is just as good as its typical equivalent. Jonny Forsyth, an alcohol industry analyst with Mintel, credited millennial’s emphasis on health and wellness as creating a market for these concoctions.

While this may be true, frankly Germany (and other European breweries) just know how to make a good non-alcoholic option. Clausthaler Golden Amber, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholfrei (from the world’s oldest brewery), or Kehrwieder U.NN IPA Alkoholfrei are some excellent options. If looking domestic — or at least more easily attainable, these above beers will certainly need some international finagling to get — Coors, Beck, and St. Pauli all offer options as well.

Give your regulars a break from their drunken haze and offer up a brew our Prohibition-era ancestors would’ve enjoyed. It’s good for the gut and ultimately good for your business.



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